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Montgomery County police to receive racial and social justice training

Police vehicles are seen outside Chief J. Thomas Manger Public Safety Headquarters in Gaithersburg, Md., on Sept. 2. (Craig Hudson for The Washington Post)

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich on Friday signed a bill that expands county police training to include 30 hours of coursework at Montgomery College aimed at reducing racial bias.

Cadets will study the history of law enforcement and the disproportionate impact policing and incarceration practices have had on communities of color as part of a curriculum designed by experts in sociology and criminal justice. The coursework also includes racial equity, social justice, health and wellness, community policing, active listening and conflict resolution and civic engagement.

“I think this is a signal to our community that we take seriously the moment we’re in and the need to reimagine what our public safety system looks like,” said Montgomery Council member Will Jawando (D - At Large), who introduced the unanimously supported legislation last month.

Jawando has been raising concerns about racial disparities in police encounters in Montgomery County since before racial justice protests broke out in 2020 after a Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd. He first proposed the 30-hour training program in 2021. Last month, the county published a report requested by the council member that showed Black men are the most overrepresented demographic in traffic stops and citations, accounting for 19 to 20 percent of stops between 2018 and 2022 despite making up 9 percent of the adult population.

Black drivers, including men and women, are also far more likely to be searched and arrested during traffic stops — making up 43 percent of searches and 38 percent of arrests but only 18 percent of the adult population. Latino drivers, too, are more likely to be arrested and searched: they make up 31 percent of searches and 35 percent of arrests despite accounting for 19 percent of the population.

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The data suggests that even in equity-minded corners of the country like Montgomery County, people of color often do not receive equal justice under the law.

“There are issues that bedeviled departments across the country for a very long time,” Elrich, who is seeking reelection, said shortly before signing the bill. “We’re moving beyond that and Montgomery County is doing everything we can to make sure we prepare our officers.”

Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus G. Jones said the county is aiming to have the current class of recruits participate in the new program immediately after they finish their academy training in March. Training runs 26 weeks, and the new program at Montgomery College will add about one additional week of coursework for cadets. Veteran officers will also receive similar training through continuing education.

“We have a very good police department and I’m very proud of the men and women of Montgomery County Police,” Jones said at a news conference Friday. “We can always look at ourselves in the mirror and always do better than we did the day before.”

The police department is grappling with the revisions related to racial justice while trying to boost staffing as veteran officers retire at a faster rate than recruits join the force, and as the county experienced a spike in gun violence in the first half of the year.

The county police department is developing the new training program alongside experts from Montgomery College. Professors and other university staff are helping to design the program.

“Montgomery College is the college of the community, and we will not let the community down,” said professor Ginger Robinson, who serves as department chair for the college’s sociology, anthropology and criminal justice department.

Jawando said he hopes the collaboration will encourage people studying criminal justice-related topics at the college to join the police force. The police force is made up of about 74 percent White officers, 12 percent Black officers, 9 percent Hispanic officers, 4 percent Asian officers and less than 1 percent Native American officers. According to a recent analysis by the Office of Legislative Oversight, the county’s adult population is about 43 percent White, 19 percent Latino, 18 percent Black, 16 percent Asian, less than 1 percent Native American and 4 percent other races.

This story has been updated to clarify the duration of Council member Will Jawando’s advocacy on policing issues.